Training camps may be a little more than a month away, but it's never too early to start thinking about the NBA fantasy ahead. Today, the up-and-coming Hornets.
The Hornets surprised many around the league by winning the toughest division (Southwest) in the NBA and easily knocking out Dallas in the first round. Byron Scott was named Coach of the Year for his efforts, and Chris Paul had one of the greatest seasons ever by a point guard, finishing second in the MVP voting. In the playoffs, New Orleans lost in seven games to the Spurs in the second round, but it was a very successful season for such a young team.
Key additions: James PoseyKey losses: Bonzi Wells, Jannero Pargo
Fresh off a key sixth man role for the champion Celtics, Posey was able to parlay his solid play into a four year, $25 million deal with the Hornets. Posey's arrival means Wells is now expendable. So was Pargo, apparently, who signed with TK. And while the Hornets traded away their only draft pick, they had much more important matters at hand, as they signed Paul to a three-year contract extension for $68 million.
How good was CP3 last year? Well, the only other player in NBA history to average 20-plus points (21.1), 10-plus assists (11.6), and 2.5-plus steals (2.71) was Isiah Thomas in 1983-84 (also at the age of 22). Two key differences: Paul had 2.51 turnovers per game vs. 3.74 for Isiah, and Paul shot 85.1 percent from the line vs. 73.3 percent for the former Piston. Needless to say, Paul (37.6 mpg) will get the bulk of the PG minutes once again.
David West also had a stellar season, and will play roughly 38 minutes as well at power forward. ... At center, Tyson Chandler played a career-high 35.3 minutes, but blocked a career-low 1.06 shots per game (In his rookie year, he blocked more shots in less than half as many minutes!). Chandler was supposed to be an alternate for Team USA this summer, but a toe injury prevented him from travelling with the team. Obviously, this is a key injury that needs to be monitored.
Minutes are a little more up in the air at the swingmen spots. In '07-08, Peja Stojakovic played 35.3 mpg at small forward and Morris Peterson played 23.6 mpg at shooting guard. Ideally, Posey would replace Mo Pete in most situations, but as of now, Scott is saying Mo Pete will start, and Posey will back up both players off the bench. Tentatively, I'm going to project 34 minutes for Peja, 28 minutes for Posey and 18 minutes for Mo Pete.
Julian Wright had a fine rookie campaign, and should see about 12-14 minutes of action at both forward spots. And lastly, Hilton Armstrong and Melvin Ely will battle for the remaining big men minutes, so keep an eye on them if TC's toe is still bothering him.
David West and James Posey
Despite being named to the All-Star team last year and nearly every single analyst calling him the most underrated power forward in the game, West will still be overlooked by many on draft day '08. Last year I felt if West could just block a few more shots, he would be able to join the exclusive 1-plus block and 77 percent FT club. Well, he did just that and improved in other areas, as well. In fact, only four players averaged 20-plus points and 8-plus rebounds while shooting better than 48 percent from the field and 80 percent fronm the line in '07-08: Amare Stoudemire, Yao Ming, Chris Bosh and West. That's exclusive company right there. I strongly recommend drafting West before more popular players such as Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol and Al Jefferson, and if you let him fall past the fourtth round, you're going to regret it.
I'm not certain of it, but there's a good chance that West met Posey on a recruiting trip way back in '98. You see, Posey led Xavier University in rebounding for three straight years before graduating in '99. A few months later, West stepped onto campus and proceeded to lead Xavier to 94 wins in four seasons while being named the A-10 Player of the Year three years in a row. So don't be surprised if you see them throwing up a lot of Xs this season.
A lot of people are going to ignore Posey this year due to his lowly 7.4 ppg average, but I think he's going to be an excellent late round value pick. He may start the season on the bench, but the Hornets aren't paying him $25 million to ride the pine, so his minutes are sure to rise from the 24.6 that he played last year. As a result, Posey could easily crack the top 50 in both threes and steals in '08-09. For his career, he's a rock solid 82 percent from the line, and he also pitches in with boards and blocks. I'm suggesting you target Posey in rounds 10-12, which is exactly where people targeted Mo Pete a year ago. Peterson didn't deliver, but Posey will.
After playing in just 13 games the year before, Peja bounced back nicely in '07-08, playing in 77 games and knocking down 231 threes (second behind Jason Richardson). However, this is not the same fantasy stud that we used to know and love. For proof, let's compare some of his '07-08 stats to his '03-04 stats.
In '03-04, he shot a blistering 92.7 percent from the stripe on 5.2 attempts per game. Last season, he made a career-high 92.9 percent of his freebies, but he attempted just 1.8 per contest. In '03-04, he pulled down 6.3 rebounds and grabbed 1.3 steals per game. Last season, those averages were down to 4.3 and .7, and they could plummet even further with Posey now in town (a superior rebounder and defender). A lot of people are going to draft Peja in Round 5 because those 3 threes per game are so juicy, but those people probably don't realize that he had to shoot a career-best 44.1 percent from beyond the arc to make that many. Since most of Stojakovic's stats are going to decline this year, I suggest waiting until Rounds 7 or 8 to grab him.
(Where you should draft these guys in an eight-category rotisserie league with 12 teams and 14 man rosters)
Paul: Top 3West: Early 3rd-4thChandler: 6th-7thStojakovic: 7th-8thPosey: 10th-12thPeterson: Don't draft (and save yourself a headache)Wright: Don't draft (but pickup ASAP if West goes down)